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Babysitting

By Neil Hutchison

I have a confession to make: I don’t like children. It’s not that I wish them any harm, as I have no ill will towards any of God’s creatures, it’s simply that I have zero tolerance for anyone under the age of eighteen. Some people have argued, “But you were once a child yourself,” but so far no older relative has been able to show me any proof. They claim all photographic evidence of my childhood was destroyed by fire after my infamous ‘matches experiment’ in 1960. Sure, I have children of my own and have always loved them dearly. I remember when my first child was born. I left the pub just in time to make it to the hospital to see the nurse bringing a little bundle of rags towards me. The nurse smiled and showed me the reddish prune inside the bundle.

“Yes, very nice,” I said. “Now take it away and bring it back when it turns eighteen.”

Australian nurses have no sense of humour. Neither do Australian wives when Australian nurses blab to them about their husband’s innocent slip of the tongue.

Now that my kids have turned into fine upstanding adults, I find I can communicate with them much more easily. In the adult world I can share a beer and a boys’ night out with my son and have sensible conversations with my daughters.

Two years after my youngest daughter was born, I discovered what was causing it. I was straight off to a fertility clinic to receive the kindest cut of all, putting any future fatherhood off the agenda forever. Many people have subsequently told me this was the finest thing I could have done for mankind. Bless their hearts.

But this brings me to the point of the story. Whereas I could no longer be held responsible for bringing another child into the world, it did not stop other people from wanting to share their own progeny with me. After my wife and I separated, I began ‘seeing’ another lady. She was wonderful, divorced but had one problem in the form of an 8-year-old son who had been diagnosed with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). That is a fancy politically correct term for ‘uncontrollable brat’. Being a firm believer in the tenet that children should be seen and not heard (and the less seen the better), I could not adjust to her giving in to his every whim, tantrum and demand. Rightly or wrongly, I wanted him to be shown discipline while she was resigned to doing anything for peace and quiet. I saw the writing on the wall (coincidentally, there was a lot of writing on the walls of her home courtesy of the brat getting hold of felt-tipped marker pens) and knew the day would come when she would overrule my disciplinary measures with the words, “You’re not his father!” End of relationship.

In Thailand some years ago, I found a wonderful lady who never indicated a desire to have children with me. At around the same time, another Australian guy fell in love with my girlfriend’s elder sister. (We tall, bronzed ANZACs certainly have a way with the ladies. Perhaps it’s our rugged good looks complemented by our caring and sincere nature.) Everything was fine with their relationship but for one fly in the ointment. She had a 7-year-old son who was being cared for by her mother.

Unfortunately, while the happy couple were off in Australia, things fell apart in the village. Without going into detail, the ankle-biter could not stay there anymore and I received a frantic phone call from Australia asking if I could help. Having spent a lifetime striving to do the right thing, of course, my answer was “yes.” Until other arrangements could be made I would do whatever I could to help out a desperate fellow countryman. I sent my darling up to the village to collect her nephew.

They returned the same day and the ankle-biter was never any trouble. I don’t think I heard a sound out of him and began to wonder if he could actually speak. He immediately formed a friendship with one of our neighbour’s rug-rats and they sat and watched DVDs together. (I had to confiscate the porn ones!) As every foreigner in Thailand knows, the way to survive here is to let Thais take care of Thai matters. Therefore, I washed my hands of responsibility and let my girlfriend handle everything. I did hear a lot of whining and groaning from her. She was annoyed simply through the fact he was her constant shadow. She also had to get up early in the morning to feed him and I warned her to go about it quietly so as not to wake me up in the process. To a lady used to never crawling out of bed before midday, it was a reality check. And this was a good thing. If ever she were to be overcome by her well-hidden mothering instincts and wanted a child, all I needed to do was remind her about that.

Now, approaching my twilight years and foolishly believing my child-rearing days were well and truly over, I have two grandsons. I quickly learned that, just as it is in Thailand, the true purpose of grandparents is for unpaid babysitting duties. I immediately let it be known that I do not sing nursery rhymes nor do I change dirty nappies. I expected each grandson to be quiet, not get up to mischief and to keep his room tidy.

Surprisingly, this did not deter my children from declaring me their roving babysitter and sharing my time whenever they needed quality time away from ankle-biters. Strangely enough, I found it not such a bad job so perhaps I have mellowed in my old age. Perhaps I was a late bloomer and the nurturing instinct I lacked as a young man has finally surfaced.